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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Hello, Minneapolis.

Twelve months from now, September 1 through 4, 2008, Minneapolis- St. Paul will become staging ground for the handoff of the Republican baton from Mr. Bush to the next GOP presidential nominee.

The Twin Cities seemed idyllic for a political photo-op until the tragic collapse of the I-35 West Minneapolis bridge. And that doomed bridge was one of almost 74,000 bridges that civil engineers say are, quote-unquote, "structurally deficient."

The number of bridges rated as "needing more repair" is estimated as 150,000. President Bush has pledged that the Minneapolis bridge will be rebuilt by next year. That means in time for the Republican National Convention. But what about the other 74,000 structurally deficient bridges, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Before we raise taxes, which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities. And bridges are a priority. Let's make sure we set that priority first and foremost before we raise taxes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: If Congress decides that the 74,000 structurally deficient bridges, like the Minneapolis one that collapsed, funding for the repair of those 74,000 bridges is a higher priority than funding the surge of troops in Iraq, will the president go along with the Congress?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, John, that's ridiculous. The president believes the surge is vital to national security, vital to saving Iraq.

With regard to the bridges, John, look, we've lost one in about 20 years, a major bridge which collapsed out of tens or thousands or hundreds of thousands. This is not a crisis. There is a problem. Structurally deficient does not mean dangerous.

What we ought to do is look at these bridges and find out the ones that are serious and dangerous and get to work on them now. You may need to step up repairs and things like that. But this is something that is not a national emergency. And frankly, it's good that this thing has called our attention to it. But again, it is a problem and not a crisis.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, what do you think of Pat's complacency?

MS. CLIFT: I don't see how you can say structurally deficient doesn't mean dangerous. To me, the collapse in Minneapolis proved that one can mean the other.

I think this is a watershed moment on the scale of what Katrina revealed about this government. People woke up after Katrina and saw how the administration failed to perform, and they said they just don't know what they're doing.

And I think now they're looking at this administration's priorities -- a huge expensive war that isn't working; tax cuts, tax breaks for hedge funds -- and I think people are going to demand that investments in this country begin to be caught up with, not only in infrastructure; in education, in science, in health. And I think we are going to go into an election season where the candidates are all going to have big ideas out on the table, and the public's ready for it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, let's expand the infrastructure picture. Gridlock deliverance.

Every commuter dreads it: Gridlock, suffocating our streets and highways. Gridlock is now standard across the U.S. It's rampant and growing. This is due to the number of cars on the road -- 242 million automobiles in the U.S. This is also due to the number of drivers -- 200 million drivers. It is also due to population growth, legal and illegal, and the finite capacity of our current road system.

All of these factors, combined with the insistence of Americans to drive and own multiple cars, have meant that cars multiply faster than new roads are built to accommodate them. The result: Roads in chronic disrepair, choked highways, lengthier commutes and nerve- wracking congestion.

Question: What's the solution to gridlock? Do we build more roads? Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think each community and state should make up its own mind. I think road building and road repair is primarily a state and local responsibility. And it's also let the people decide, because they have to have priorities. Do you want to spend more money on your schools, more money on prisons or more money on roads? That's what's going on in Virginia right now, a big fight. Do you want to have increased taxes or fines to pay for roads? That's a big fight.

These are reasonable decisions for citizens to make. It doesn't need to be made in Washington. And, by the way, in the previous discussion, we know we're already in a campaign season when a bridge falling down in the land of lakes constitutes the fault of President Bush. Bridges fall down once in a while, and they'll be falling down when Democrats or libertarians are in the White House as well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Casey Dinges, welcome. You heard Pat Buchanan say, with unlimited complacency, that this is no crisis. Do you think, on the basis of what you've seen here so far, that this will be developed as the program continues, that there is a crisis?

MR. DINGES: We've been calling attention to the nation's infrastructure crisis for the past nine years. We gave roads a D. We gave bridges a C. There is none of the 15 categories that had a higher grade than a C+. When you look at -- you were just talking about congestion. The U.S. economy loses $65 billion a year in productivity because of traffic congestion; if you look at road conditions, $54 billion a year in car repairs. That's $275 per motorist.

And when I think back to the last transportation bill, when ASCE proposed just a six-cent increase in the gas tax, that would have cost the average motorist just $30 a year, and we could have started making some serious headway in this issue. I should point out that Mr. Oberstar will be introducing a bill -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Jim Oberstar, chairman of --

MR. DINGES: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; he's from northern Minnesota -- will be introducing a bill with no earmarks that will focus on over 6,000 bridges in the national highway system. This is a --

MR. BLANKLEY: But what's interesting about Oberstar is that he doesn't come from Minneapolis. He comes from up north, near the Canadian border. He's been in a position to funnel millions of dollars to Minnesota for years. He didn't decide to send any of that money to that bridge that fell down. So, you know, there's a role for politics in it, but I think Oberstar's probably got a little explaining to do.

MR. BUCHANAN: Sure, there's opportunism in this, really. And let me ask you -- look, you say a crisis. We had one bridge fall down and it was tragic. We lost a half-dozen people. Maybe we lost a half-dozen more. But one in 20 years major bridges has this kind of collapse. That is not a national crisis.


MS. CLIFT: Look around. You can see the roads are deteriorating.

MR. BUCHANAN: But that's not a crisis.

MS. CLIFT: In the District -- it will be. In the District of Columbia, you have a water system that's 100 years old and you have wastewater leaking into the drinking water. And there are bills on Capitol Hill now, appropriations bills, that appropriate money for the nation's needs.

MR. BUCHANAN: Washington, D.C. has the highest per capita --

MS. CLIFT: But this president has been threatening to veto --

MR. BUCHANAN: Washington, D.C. has the highest per capita income in the country. Why should folks in Mississippi repair your sewer system?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Casey, do you want to make a point?

MS. CLIFT: Because it's a federal responsibility.

MR. DINGES: Pat, we have a national highway system that is critical to the U.S. economy. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is now coming out with a "Let's Rebuild America" plan. Even they are talking about --

MR. BUCHANAN: The states take care of it once the feds build it.

MR. DINGES: Pat, let me say, here's a system that is only 4 percent of the road miles of the United States that carries 45 percent of the traffic. It is critical to public safety and the economy. The Oberstar initiative will be the first in many steps --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A couple of questions for you, Casey. One is mass transit. Mass transit doesn't go over as a solution to this problem with a lot of Americans. They still adore their cars and they want their cars. We can't build more roads under the circumstances that we have. And in New York City, we have congestion pricing going on with Mike Bloomberg. Will you sort some of that out briefly and tell us, where do we go in the light of where things are? MR. DINGES: Well, I think Tony was on the right track before when he talked about communities have to make their own decisions. Certainly in major metropolitan areas, transit systems can offer a huge complement to the existing highway system there. Clearly we can't just build our way out of it. But there are also non-structural solutions and policies that should be considered -- telecommuting, more flexible work schedules. You see on Friday in the Washington area the Friday effect. You can actually drive on the roads going to work.

MS. CLIFT: It takes leadership. After World War II we maintained the infrastructure we had and we built an incredible network of highways. And leaders in both parties agreed that these were priorities. Now we have this tax-averse society, rallied by the Republicans --

MR. BLANKLEY: Tax-averse?

MS. CLIFT: Tax-averse, where everything becomes a sort of right- wing libertarian refusal to let government spend any money or raise any money.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Multiple choice: The 2008 presidential election, the top domestic policy issue, which of these: A, health care -- the top domestic policy issue; B, infrastructure; C, the economy; D, crime; E, none of the above. Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: It'll be the economy and immigration, which was none of the above.


MS. CLIFT: I think it'll be the economy, with health care right behind it. But I think the economy incorporates infrastructure, which is a way to get people jobs.


It'll be disguised as a jobs issue.

Go ahead.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think it'll probably be the economy, immigration and health care, with infrastructure way down the list.

MR. DINGES: Each billion invested generates 40,000 new jobs. It'll be B, infrastructure, because it does relate to the economy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, and it would be retooled as a job opportunity. I agree. I think infrastructure is going to soar. I think it's going to build. And I think Hillary is going to help do it with her council similar to the 9/11 commission. That's a great idea. And her development of it so far is terrific. Issue Two: The Buck Stops Where?

After the collapse of the Minneapolis bridge, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters outlined federal and state government roles and responsibilities regarding bridges and infrastructure generally.

Quote: "The standards for inspecting bridges and responding to those inspections, the standards are set by the federal government. The state had the responsibility for carrying those out and then reacting as they need to if the bridges are showing signs of wear and fatigue, ensuring that they are doing the rehabilitation they need to," unquote.

So infrastructure costs in the United States are split between the federal government and state governments. It's not an even split; far from it. It's a division. In fact, it's a fractionated division. On the one hand, there's federal money. On the other hand, there's state money. The state money is further distributed. Besides all 50 states, it includes 3,000 counties plus 19,000 municipalities plus 16,000 towns plus 50,000 other units of local government in all.

The government entities that share responsibilities for infrastructure spending and maintenance from water systems and roads to emergency facilities and schools -- get this -- add up to about 90,000 government units.

Question: Numerous government units, so counties maintain county roads, states maintain state highways, cities maintain streets, and the feds produce block-grant money. Is this good policy? Casey Dinges.

MR. DINGES: You know, this is the system we have. This is a federalist system. This is a complex society we have with many interdependent infrastructure systems. I think, going back to a point Eleanor made earlier, this is a leadership issue for Washington. Washington doesn't have all the answers. Not all the money has to come from Washington. But the leadership has to start at the top.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me answer that, because I think this is an excellent way to deal -- I mean, this is the way free peoples manage and deal with their problems. You don't want -- if you've got a problem -- we had a problem in our community about expanding a little two-lane road. And you don't want to have to go to Washington for that. You want to go down to city hall and work it out at the community level. And this permits those kind of decisions to be made by citizens.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you think it's working.

MR. BUCHANAN: What's the matter with you, John?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, it's working fine. MR. BUCHANAN: John, this is the principle of --

MR. BLANKLEY: More money is always needed, of course. But with money available --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, this is the principle --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You have to untangle -- there are clearly -- I guess there are clear instances where the federal government should be underwriting the infrastructure alteration or improvement, correct; in questions of state highways, for example, moving from state to state.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, this is a principle --

MS. CLIFT: Interstate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, who makes those decisions?

MR. DINGES: We have a national system. It's a partnership. But to have strong partnerships, you need strong leadership. We don't parcel out national defense in a state-by-state basis.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's done on a grant basis by the federal government.

MR. BUCHANAN: This is ridiculous.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that is working.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, John, look, this is a principle --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's complicated.

MR. DINGES: We need more investment. One penny -- a one-cent increase in the gas tax yields $1.7 billion.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, John, your basic principle, though, the principle of subsidiarity -- Tony is exactly right. There are things that could be done by McLean alone. You don't need the feds. There are state roads we've got. And there's an interstate highway system of autobahns --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I feel better already, Pat. You're helping me out here.

Exit question: Do we need a national commission on infrastructure like the 9/11 commission? It would focus on the nation's critical infrastructure needs. Yes or no. This is the Hillary Clinton plan.

MR. BUCHANAN: I would not object to something that studied the entire national infrastructure.

MS. CLIFT: I think it's a good idea because it can take politics out of it. And you have to remember that the gas tax of 1993, we've lost 30 percent purchasing power, and that means less roads that could be built and maintained.

MR. BLANKLEY: Anybody who thinks that there's no politics in national commissions created by Congress or the White House doesn't know about national commissions. There will be just as much politics in that as there are --

MR. BLANKLEY: Bipartisan --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The 9/11 commission worked very well.

MS. CLIFT: Like the base-closing commissions -- package deals. MR. DINGES: It's an important --


MR. DINGES: It's an important bill. It's bipartisan. It's passed the Senate. The House has got to get moving on it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Great idea.

Issue Three: The Pot and the Ante.

The United States government, both state and local collectively, budget a total of $113 billion on infrastructure maintenance alone each year. Over the next five years, the amount the U.S. should be spending is $1.6 trillion.

If you were to average this spread out evenly over five years, it would amount to $300 billion per year. But we are spending $113 billion per year. That's about a $200 billion-a-year shortfall.

Question: What are the engineers really telling us when they say we need to spend $1.6 trillion over the next five years? How much more is that over the current budget? I ask you, Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: I mean --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's about double.

MR. BUCHANAN: Two hundred billion.

MR. BLANKLEY: Two hundred billion. And John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have to double the budget.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, look, and you're welcome to pay for it out of the profits you make off this show if you think it's the right way to spend money. But keep in mind, every group -- and I respect the Civil Engineers Society; I think they do wonderful work -- but every group says that their particular interest requires more money. People are concerned about nutrition for young children. They want more hot lunch money, and that's good. But someone's got to say, "Where does the money come from?"

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.

MR. BLANKLEY: The federal government is broke, for goodness' sakes.

MR. DINGES: We didn't cry loud enough on the levees, and look what happened.

MS. CLIFT: Right. And the point is, there is money for this in the appropriations bills that are now before Congress. And the president is embarking on a political strategy of standing up to the free-spending Congress and looking tough.


MS. CLIFT: I think there's going to be public anger when they realize that they're getting shortchanged.

MR. BLANKLEY: There's only $23 billion --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Hold on.

MS. CLIFT: The president is more worried about his poll ratings.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, follow the money.

Is there money to be paid not in improving the infrastructure but in keeping the infrastructure in its current state, or possibly letting it slip more? For some people, maybe there's money to be made in a status quo or even a deteriorating infrastructure.

Listen to Pat Wood, former head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC. Chairman Wood said this about the 2003 blackout of the nation's electrical grid and what these electricity issues are tied back to.

PAT WOOD (former FERC chairman): (From videotape.) The electricity issues are tied back to, you know, interests that kind of like the status quo. And I think our country deserves better than that. Clearly, in light of what happened, we have to have better than that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Special interests, and they want situations to stay the same or maybe deteriorate a little bit more.

If Pat Wood is right that the electricity grid should stay as it is, status quo or even deteriorate a bit, who makes money on that? In other words, follow the money and see why the infrastructure is frozen. In other words, do we need an influx of new money alone, or do we have to persuade the special interests that want to retain the existing infrastructure to move back and let progress proceed?

MR. DINGES: John, I'm not sure how to respond to that. (Laughter.) Blackouts, brownouts -- unreliable grid is just unacceptable in the 21st century.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who makes money on the deterioration of our infrastructure?

MS. CLIFT: The candlemakers.

MR. DINGES: I can't answer that. MR. BLANKLEY: I'll answer that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about those who have to maintain it?

MR. BLANKLEY: John, I'll answer that question.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The maintenance. Somebody must be on the receiving end.

MR. BLANKLEY: John, let me give you the answer. It's the Luddite environmentalists who don't want to have more roads because that'll attract more cars and more building and more exploitation of the environment. They're the ones --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, people pushing your --

MR. BLANKLEY: -- who prefer open lands to people living --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, because that car is burning those fumes, the environmental doesn't want more cars. And beyond the 220 or so million automobiles that exist, he wants to hold things as they are.

MR. BLANKLEY: They don't like people soiling up the environment.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. The notion --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, the economic and spending forces are all behind what you recommend.

Let's take another $100 billion from the taxpayers, and we will spend it and we will build all this good stuff for it. That's where the real force is coming from -- more spending and Eleanor's friends.

MS. CLIFT: The notion that an army of environmentalists are controlling this subject --


MS. CLIFT: -- I wish it were true. It's the big corporations that benefit every step along the way in this administration.

MR. BUCHANAN: Who's stopping the oil drilling in Florida, California and ANWR if not your crowd?

MS. CLIFT: People who want to save the planet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Is the U.S. falling behind Europe and other developing nations in its infrastructure? Yes or no.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, we're falling behind China in new infrastructure, and I think we're falling behind Europe as well because we've got an enormous --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That doesn't bother you?

MR. BUCHANAN: It does, and maybe you need some more money for it. But, look, John, there's a lot of people pushing this that are in it for the money.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or in it the other way for the money too?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The contractors, who like to maintain bad situations. You clear up the situation and there's no business for them.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, repairing roads takes money. They're delighted to have the money to repair the roads.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, you look into it more deeply and follow the money and you'll see -- MR. BUCHANAN: You're arguing for the money.

MS. CLIFT: We're a capitalist society. People are going to find ways to make money out of doing good things for the environment and good things for infrastructure, I hope.


MR. BLANKLEY: What? (Laughter.)


MR. DINGES: Don't compare us to Europe and others. The U.S. needs the infrastructure it needs for the 21st century if we're going to remain a world leader.

MR. BUCHANAN: More jobs for civil engineers, right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, I think we've lost anything like a first- place position to, what do you want, Spain or France or the UK.

MR. BUCHANAN: Have you gone to the airports in Europe lately?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Bridge to Nowhere.

A perfect example of how remedial infrastructure money can be diverted from what it was intended for is the congressional practice of, quote-unquote, "earmarking." Earmarking dates from the 16th century and was originally meant to refer to cuts or marks in the ears of pigs, cattle and sheep. These cuts designated ownership.

Five hundred years later in the U.S. Congress, earmarking refers to how funds are awarded to congressmen and then brought back to their states and districts for grateful constituents. And that's called, quote-unquote, "pork."

Two years ago, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska earmarked big pork in federal transportation funds to build the Ketchikan-Gravina Island Bridge, $223 million worth of pork. The pork price was so big and the populations it connected so small, the bridge was dubbed the bridge to nowhere.

The bridge to nowhere, if it were built, would have linked a town with a population of 9,000, Ketchikan, to an island with a population of 50 -- that's 5-0 -- population, Gravina. The two are separated by a seven-minute ferry ride; $233 million to build that bridge.

You were in Gravina. You campaigned there when you were running for president.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah. And listen, I've gone across those straits, and they're dangerous, John. But Gravina is where the airport is that serves Ketchikan. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, okay. Now, what's the answer to the question? In terms of total revenue, what year was -- well, never mind. What year was the highest for earmarks? As a matter of fact, it was --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was 2006, when the Republicans had the Senate and the House.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, last year.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, Eleanor, do you want to answer the question?

MS. CLIFT: I don't remember what the question was, but --

MR. BLANKLEY: I'll tell you -- this one I remember. (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: -- this Republican Congress had more earmarks in the last highway bill than all of the earmarks in all of the highway bills up to that point.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me give you --

MS. CLIFT: They absolutely gorged themselves.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Republican Congress.

MS. CLIFT: Republican Congress, exactly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Democrats -- they're up to $13 billion already.

MS. CLIFT: They cut them in half.

MR. BLANKLEY: Whether you're for or against earmarks, there's a relatively small amount of money, a few hundred million dollars or a few billion --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the point?

MR. BLANKLEY: That the problems of paying for our infrastructure are well beyond whether we have earmarks or not. There's a much more fundamental decision.

MR. DINGES: Tony's right on the mark. The last bill was $89 billion underinvesting in infrastructure, yet the headlines were all about earmarks.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think when, say, Hastert walks away with $160 million, that's noteworthy as an earmark? MS. CLIFT: That was the Prairie Parkway.

MR. BLANKLEY: It may be noteworthy, but it's --


MS. CLIFT: The Prairie Parkway.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're not worrisome? I don't know whether it's worrisome or not.

MS. CLIFT: It destroys Congress's credibility is what it does.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will they ever abandon the earmarks? Yes or no?


MS. CLIFT: No. (Laughs.




MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes? I don't think so. I don't think they will.

Predictions, Pat, fast.

MR. BUCHANAN: Oberstar notwithstanding, no nickel-a-gallon gas tax increase.


MS. CLIFT: At least one Bush veto will be overridden.


MR. BLANKLEY: If Congress passes an energy bill, the president will veto it over oil industry taxes.


MR. DINGES: On a related infrastructure bill, the water resources bill will clear the Senate. The president, if he vetoes it, will be overridden by the Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hillary's proposal for a national commission on infrastructure will build in importance and acceptance and guarantee her the Democratic presidential nomination.


(PBS segment.)

Issue Five: Smarten Up Your Grid.

It's been four years since the electrical grid failure in August 2003, a blackout that sent 50 million people into darkness. Now Congress has finally passed legislation to upgrade the nation's electrical transmission system. Both the House and the Senate have passed versions of bills that include the creation of a smart grid. This grid reduces the need for more power production. It moves electrical energy more efficiently across the grid. The House and Senate still have to face a conference reconciling the two versions, then the president's signature, if he chooses to sign.

Question: How does the American Society of Civil Engineers rate the electrical transmission system? Casey Dinges.

MR. DINGES: Our 2005 report card rated it a D. It is still an antiquated infrastructure and there are huge problems in terms of moving power between the five major power grids in the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are your civil engineers behind the idea of a smart grid?

MR. DINGES: Certainly. Any technological innovation that can get more out of what you already have is a good thing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does the smart grid force an obsolescence on products like refrigerators to an earlier term because the smart grid has to come or should come into operation?

MR. DINGES: That's a possibility. I think that -- and part of the smart technologies goes to the appliances we use in our homes, so --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that Buchanan will understand that this deficiency in our electrical system, which causes blackouts and huge losses of revenue -- maybe that will strike Buchanan. Do you think that that's going to move him in the direction of a smart grid?

MR. DINGES: Pat, what will move you?

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.) Look, no, I do agree with the electrical grid. I believe in building redundancy into it for national security reasons. I think the smart grid is a good idea. I think we need to build more of these power plants and things.